Editorial: People know best on Balivanich pharmacy/Welcome end in sight over Pairc

Balivanich pharmacy: listen to the people

We do not yet know the results of the household survey conducted by Western Isles Health Board about the establishment of a commercial pharmacy in Balivanich.

But we can hazard a guess that the proposal got a pronounced thumbs-down from the people of North Uist, Grimsay, Baleshare, Berneray and even from those of Benbecula and Iochdar and Lochcarnan in South Uist.

The campaign against the pharmacy has been headed by local general practitioners. Their argument that it is unnecessary and could damage local health service provision has won widespread support.

This is not a case, as has been suggested elsewhere, of islanders kicking against the 21st century. Town and city dwellers might operate on the assumption that the more local pharmacies the better for competitive pricing.

Uist is not a town or a city. It is a sparse and scattered rural area, much of which is connected only by causeways. If you live in Berneray or Baleshare, there is a big difference between travelling to a dispensary in Lochmaddy and a monopolistic pharmacy in Balivanich. If you live in Lochmaddy itself there is an even greater difference.

The dispensing GP practices in Lochmaddy and Griminish have served the islands well, not least because they understand their patients and their environment in a way that a Glasgow-based chain of pharmacies cannot hope to match.

Neither of those two GP practices is likely to close as a result of a new pharmacy. But it seems probable that they would lose employees and possible that they would be obliged to reduce their GP numbers.

Those arguments, and the heavy-handed approach of the Pharmacy Practices Committee examining the matter, have convinced most people north of the North Ford and a good many south of it that they are better off with the status quo.

If public opinion was the deciding factor there would be only one answer to this proposal, and the answer would be no.

Absurdly, public opinion is well down the list of the Pharmacy Practices Committee’s statutory considerations. The result is an anxious uncertainty in Uist about the future of its medical services.

Western Isles Health Board is obliged to let us know its decision before next Thursday, 21st November.

If the board has not already made up its mind, we urge it to remember that Balivanich is not Glasgow, and that it is possible that the people of Uist know better than anybody else whether or not they need a pharmacy.

Is the Pairc buy-out marathon approaching the finish line?

We would not second-guess the outcome of an important public meeting in Pairc next Thursday.

Nonetheless, it appears that the longest and most agonising community estate buy-out process in modern Highland history may finally be drawing to a close.

And not before time. It is now exactly nine years since the Pairc Trust was mandated in a ballot by the local community to buy the Pairc Estate under the Land Reform Act.

Since that date the trust, and the people it represents, has been subjected year after gruelling year to divisive propaganda and hostile legal action from the absentee private landowner. More shamefully, the struggle in Pairc has been treated with indifference or worse by the Scottish Government.

In the absence of any political will at Holyrood to enforce the mandatory right-to-buy clauses of the 2003 Land Reform Act, and with expensive legal battles forced upon them, the Pairc Trust began years ago to seek a voluntary agreement with the landowner, Barry Lomas.

That diplomatic approach may be bearing fruit. The details will become clearer at the public meeting in Pairc next week, but it appears that the previously intractable Mr Lomas has agreed to sell most of his estate at a slightly inflated price.

This “voluntary agreement” is not perfect. Under its provisional terms the community would still not have total control of the renewables lease on the estate. And the price may be higher than that of an independent valuer.

The alternative is to press on with attempting to win a compulsory purchase. That would be exhausting and expensive as well as uncertain, although the final rewards could be greater.

The decision lies with the community of Pairc. Whichever way they vote, they will deserve our support and understanding.

We assume that the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Review Group is watching this process very carefully.

For one thing is certain, and it is this: in the future no small community and its unpaid representatives should be forced to run the gauntlet that has been endured for almost a decade by the members of the Pairc Trust.

They are ordinary people looking to claim their moral and legal rights. They have earned respect and, above all, success.